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Real estate lawyer describes the skills trainee solicitors need

Real estate law: area of practice

As a trainee solicitor in real estate you may work on a residential development, an office block purchase or evicting squatters, says Clare Breeze of Macfarlanes LLP.
The real estate industry is generally very sociable with regular business development and networking events.

Real estate law is about helping clients to manage their rights and responsibilities as landowners and to realise the economic potential of the land and buildings. Commercial property solicitors advise on commercial transactions such as acquisitions and disposals, leasing, development, joint ventures, estate management and funding arrangements. Residential property solicitors tend to focus on residential conveyancing. Caseloads can vary from three to four large-scale development projects to over 20 residential conveyances. Clients typically include property developers, institutional investors, real estate funds, corporates, retailers, power/energy companies and financial institutions.

Working with real estate clients

Acting for a landlord on the grant of a lease would typically involve preparing a title (ownership) information pack for the tenant; replying to enquiries raised by the tenant’s solicitor; drafting, negotiating and completing an agreement for lease, rent deposit deed and licence for alterations; and obtaining third party consents from the landlord’s lender or superior landlord. A typical commercial transaction usually involves a partner or senior associate, a junior associate and a trainee. Property transactions tend to involve a lot of paperwork so a large amount of time is spent in the office reviewing and drafting documents, preparing advice for clients, and attending meetings and conference calls. A site visit to the relevant property is usually made at the start of a transaction and overseas meetings may be necessary on cross-border transactions.

Property solicitors typically work between 10 and 12 hours a day. Business tends to be quieter in the summer months, which means a better work/life balance. Late nights and weekend stints are rare but may be necessary when a deal is nearing completion or during particularly busy periods. The real estate industry is generally very sociable with regular business development and networking events. The best aspect of the job is the variety. At any one time, you may be working on a residential development, the purchase of an office block or evicting squatters. The worst aspect is the unpredictable workflow and trying to juggle too many transactions at once.

How recession-proof is this area of legal practice?

The real estate market is historically cyclical so it goes up and down as you would expect but real estate continues to thrive as an attractive investment asset. During the recession there was limited credit available, which made it difficult for investors and developers to fund their acquisitions and developments. People became more innovative about how they funded property transactions and, coming out of the recession, we have seen a lot more joint ventures between developers and investors.

Real estate law doesn’t tend to attract widespread media attention, apart from the insolvency of big high street retailers. Even though we are supposedly out of the recession, we are still seeing retailers going into administration. It is less frequent but it is still happening, as we have recently seen in the news with BHS. Internet shopping has put a huge pressure on retailers as it is difficult for those who are paying for space in shopping centres to compete with online retailers who don’t have those base costs.

The type of work you’ll be given as a trainee solicitor

Trainees get involved in a variety of ways including carrying out due diligence on a property and preparing a title report; drafting simple leases, licences, assignments and transfers; liaising with the Land Registry and HMRC; collating documents in anticipation of completing a transaction; and researching specific legal issues that may arise during the course of a transaction.

The skills good real estate solicitors have

  • Good analytical skills combined with a practical and innovative approach in order to find solutions to problems such as rights of way, contamination and boundary disputes.
  • A thorough understanding of the current law and regulations.
  • Attention to detail and meticulous drafting skills.
  • Good communication skills: complex legal arguments often need explaining to non-lawyers.

Types of law practised in real estate departments

  • Land.
  • Equity and trusts.
  • Contract.
  • Planning.
  • Environmental.
  • Construction.
  • Dispute resolution.

CLARE BREEZE is a partner in the commercial real estate group at MACFARLANES LLP. She graduated from the University of Manchester in 1992 with a degree in modern history with economics.